A Sweetener By Any Other Name

Sugar. Corn sugar. High-fructose corn syrup.

It makes you fat. It makes you more fat. It makes you just as fat.

They digest the same. They don’t digest the same.

It’s perfectly fine, as with any food, to consume in moderation.

It’s the devil and should be banned or extensively taxed so that no one can buy it, eat it and die.

That pretty much sums up all the noise – ranging from reason to rants – driving the argument over high-fructose corn syrup, what it should be called and whether it should be used at all in wholesome food products.

And I’m sure the noise has reached a fever pitch for many grocers, whose shoppers are trying to make sense of all the conflicting messages they’re hearing as they pore over ingredient panels in an effort to feed their families in the most healthful and economical way possible.

“Research studies have yielded mixed results about the possible adverse effects of consuming high-fructose corn syrup,” says an article on the Mayo Clinic’s website. “Although high-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar (sucrose), concerns have been raised because of how high-fructose corn syrup is processed. Some believe that your body reacts differently to high-fructose corn syrup than it does to other types of sugar. But research about high-fructose corn syrup is evolving.”

Jennifer Nelson, Mayo Clinic nutritionist, continues: “Some research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition and increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk. But there is insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is less healthy than are other types of added sweeteners.”

So what should grocers say when confronted by consumers looking for answers?

Obviously, makers of HFCS have a huge stake in this argument, so much so that the Corn Refiners Association commissioned a study in the sweetener’s defense. Developed by the New England Consulting Group, the study is the focus of an upcoming Progressive Grocer webinar, “The Changing Ingredient Game: The Business Case for High Fructose Corn Syrup.”

With consumer views, industry initiatives and labeling regulations changing the way sugars are seen in the marketplace, CRA invites progressive grocers to “get the full story” on HFCS by joining the free online presentation. The webinar is expected to include what CRA calls “the coming sea change” in the way consumers think about sugars; the latest consumer research on what shoppers are saying about HFCS; current retail purchase data on products with and without HFCS; and “scientific consensus that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar.”

The discussion will be led by Martin Concannon of Lafayette Associates and Dr. John White of White Technical Research, a specialist in nutritive sweeteners and one of the foremost experts in high-fructose corn syrup.

The webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. EST. I’ll be moderating the discussion, and I’d love to have you join us and participate in what promises to be an insightful and highly timely discussion. Click here to register.

Jim Dudlicek is senior editor of Progressive Grocer.

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